Ann Demeulemeester was born in Waregem, a town in the Flemish province of Belgium in 1959, and later lived in the city of Bruges. Her father, a chicory professor, and her mother both currently live in Waregem. Initially, Demeulemeester showed no interest in fashion. She attended art school for three years, where she discovered her fascination with people and portraiture, which led her to begin thinking about clothing attire. From this, Ann went on to study fashion design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp from 1978 to 1981. In 1986, Demeulemeester, along with her fellow students from the Antwerp Royal Academy, went to London to showcase their collections. As a result of this, she is often referred to as a member of the 'Antwerp Six', the radical and distinctive Belgian designers of the 1980s. This group of avant-garde designers are known for their deconstructivist styles of creating untraditional clothing lines. Other notables from the group include Dries van Noten and Walter Van Beirendonck.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1981, Demeulemeester found success almost immediately. A year after her graduation, she won the Gouden Spoel, an annually awarded prize to the year's most promising fashion designer. Ann began working as a freelance designer for a few years, and then proceeded to release her own line in 1985 with husband Patrick Robyn. Her first collection was shown in a Parisian art gallery with a makeshift runway and somber models in 1992. In 1996, she debuted her own menswear line.
In 1994, her silhouette became more elongated and streamlined. With a close attention to detail and use of cutting-edge techniques and materials, Ann Demeulemeester consistently produces pieces that are distinctive and instantly recognizable. She began by drawing influence from gothic, punk, and Japanese styles while still remaining true to her own ideas. Though Demeulemeester works with a very specific aesthetic, she continuously strives to push conventions and produce fresh looks for each season. Her pieces, which at times have been described as "funereal", have subtle hints of emotion and emphasis on sexuality.
"I could do it the easy way, give the same pieces, but if I don't try new things then I'm not pushing myself, and I feel bad. I feel lazy."
Despite being approached by major fashion houses (names of which she refuses to divulge), Ann Demeulemeester emphasizes both design and financial independence, and chooses to remain with her own line. She opened her own shop in Antwerp in 1999. Her collections are now sold in over 30 countries worldwide.
Ann Demeulemeester worked with the artist Jim Dine, and draws much of her inspiration from the androgynous singer, Patti Smith. She worked on a clothing line inspired by Jackson Pollock. In June 2013, 32 BVBA fashion house was split the Demeulemeester and Ackermann labels into two independent companies. The Demeulemeester label is reported to have $50 million in revenues. The Demeulemeester label "operates freestanding stores in Antwerp, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and wholesales to an array of international retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York in America, L’Eclaireur and Le Bon Marché in Paris and Lane Crawford and Joyce in Hong Kong."
In November 2013, Ann Demeulemeester announced she was leaving her eponymous fashion house. The exit letter also explained that the brand will show its autumn/winter 2014 men's and women's collection together at February's Paris Fashion Week.
Demeulemeester is married to photographer Patrick Robyn with whom she has a son, Victor. The couple live in Antwerp, in the only house in Belgium designed by Le Corbusier.1982 Golden Spindle Award, Belgium